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Hurley elementary teachers transition to online learning

 

April 3, 2020

Submitted photo

Hurley K-12 teacher Kristin Kolesar and some of her fifth-grade class participate in their first Zoom videoconference meeting on Thursday. The class, taking part in a reading book club activity that is offered at two different times to allow for discussion in smaller groups, include, top row from left, Ariel Haasch, Kristin Kolesar and Ian Hahn; second row, Gracie Bell, Ethan Binz and Tristan Zaleski; third row, Saylor Gilbertson, Kasey Klemme and Sawyer Peck, and fourth row, Nolan Sain and Brian Geach.

By TOM LAVENTURE

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HURLEY, Wis. - Hurley elementary teachers say online learning was already utilized in the classroom setting and has made for a smooth transition in the home setting after the shutdown order from the coronavirus pandemic.

Administration and staff are in direct communication to ensure that what is happening from the state level is being incorporated at the local level, said Kevin Genisot, administrator of Hurley School District. Parents receive weekly emails from teachers informing them of the assignments and expectations they have for students.

When the school closed on March 13 the plan was to open the school again on April 13. The fourth quarter will finish with students completing the year in school or through virtual learning, depending on the coronavirus orders.

"Either way, students will continue to receive a solid education and meet the learning objectives for each course," Genisot said. "Students are already very fluent in using technology so the transition to an online learning atmosphere has been fairly smooth."

Teachers continue to utilize a vast variety of online sources and sites which allows for the best opportunity to meet all the learning needs of every student, he said. This format is challenging to meet the needs of each student and teachers are utilizing online conference software and file sharing platforms to connect directly with students and in a group setting.

"I really miss seeing my students each day, but I feel that technology is allowing us to stay connected during this pandemic," said Kristin Kolesar, fifth grade teacher.

She sends a daily email to students and parents with assignments and activities. She also posts the assignments in Google Classroom that students already use for schoolwork.

"After a student submits an assignment, I can give individual feedback," Kolesar said.

The assignments are a mixture of the regular curriculum and special activities designed for distance learning, she said. One activity is a National Park Road Trip unit that combines reading, math and social studies. 

Her students were able to take their school issued iPads home this week. The students are creating a Keynote presentation on their iPads by following along with step by step instructional videos she posted on YouTube. 

"I try to send optional fun activities at least three days a week, such as an art project, science experiment, or poster contest," Kolesar said.

A popular activity involved filling a measuring cup with snow, bringing it inside, and predicting the volume of water that would remain after the snow melted, she said.

The class is meeting weekly via Zoom. The class also meets in small groups for a book club. 

"It was a great opportunity to not only share what we were reading, but also to see each other again," Kolesar said.

Ronda Olkonen, fourth-grade teacher, said she is teaching her classroom curriculum and started video conferencing with her students using Zoom on Wednesday. It's an effective way to continue reading classes, she said.

"This is an unprecedented time and we are all doing the best we can do," she said "It has been a learning process for us all and I think making sure that we as teachers make a connection is the most important thing we can do."

Before the shutdown the students were about to start reading "The Birchbark House," by Louise Erdrich, she said. The historical fiction novel is the first in a five book series about the life of the Ojibwe girl, Omakayas, and her community on what is now Madeline Island back in 1847.

"So, they are able to read it at home and do activities based on that novel," Olkonen said.

The students are already familiar with online learning such as the SpellingCity website. There isn't any difference accessing the site from home and they already know how to use it, she said.

"I assign activities and am able to see their progress online," Olkonen said.

The shutdown has made it apparent just how much potential there is with various technology in every area of the curriculum. The focus for her grade is currently on reading and math and she uses three online math programs, Prodigy, xtraMath, and Happy Numbers.

"These are programs that allow a student to really set the pace after an initial test," Olkonen said.

The challenges are how to connect with each child, she said. Not all young students use email and she conducts weekly phone calls to the parent and child.

"Grading is a challenge since the written work they have been doing for the novel is not able to be given to me," she said. "We are not exchanging papers physically. In the future I may have them send images of their work."

Michelle Santini, second grade teacher, said the three weeks of distance learning since the school closure has been "a whirlwind of decision making" in helping the kids understand what was happening. 

She sent her students home with their reading and math books and spent the first week setting up ways to communicate with parents individually and as a group through group emails and the Class Dojo app and website. The platform is also a way to send documents, photos and videos back and forth with the students and to help parents navigate the educational websites. 

Santini created a YouTube channel for the class. She created instructional videos and posted them for students to watch. 

"I had to learn how to make and send videos to my students," Santini said. "I felt like a first year teacher all over again. I was so nervous to create my first video, and then watch myself teaching."

Zoom offered a way for the students to see each other, have lunch together and play games together, she said. The kids can get together in a new way which is exciting for them.

For art class she has the students complete workbooks and parents take pictures of the work to send electronically for review in Class Dojo. She can comment on the work and discuss changes that can be made.

After three weeks she continues to communicate with parents and students daily. It's important that the parents and students feel supported and get a quick reply to questions, she said.

There is no longer a school day as communication with parents occurs as much in the evening, after having a chance to sit down with their child after work.

The parents deserve credit for doing an amazing job at home, she said. They have taken a bigger role in helping to educate their children in this unique situation.

"With that daily communication my relationship with them has changed and become stronger," Santini said. "I feel like I can reach out to any parent and they will reply to me, and I hope they feel the same way."

Establishing an academic routine helps ease anxiety for parents and students, she said. The pandemic is an unfortunate situation but the constant communication brings parents and teachers closer than ever before, she said.

 
 

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